A Picture of God
with Alice Rose Anderson
Meet Alice Rose Anderson, age 6 and a half. Alice is the budding iconographer who will give us a picture of God. But, first some background.
My wife, Karen, bought Alice Rose a new dress for her to wear to church. It was the first Sunday in October, if I recall correctly. It was the day, in the name of St. Francis of Assisi, Pastor Tom Gable blessed the animals we brought to church.
During the night prior, Alice woke up about two o’clock. She put on her new dress. Then, she went back to sleep. She was ready to go to church when the rest of us awakened. She wore her new dress to worship proudly.
Alice Rose is Karen’s granddaughter, on the Anderson side of the family. She calls me, “Opa.” I decided to interview Alice Rose on important theological matters. Why? Because she produced a picture of God.
A Picture of God
On the wooden deck of her home in San Anselmo, California, Alice Rose decided to make a mural in chalk. Most murals go on walls. But, the deck has no walls. Only rails. So, she drew on the floor.
Opa: What are we looking at here?
Alice Rose: God. God is wearing a robe.
Opa: Why is God smiling?
Alice Rose: God is smiling at the world. God is happy with the world, because God likes everybody.
Opa: Does God like Alice Rose?
Alice Rose: Of course. God loves everybody. Me too.
Opa: What is this above God’s head?
Alice Rose: A halo! Now, that I think of it, I don’t know if God has a halo. Maybe angels have halos. Mmmmm?
The First Commandment and Our Image of God
The first commandment in Exodus 20 strictly prohibits making images of God: “You shall not make for yourself an image that could become an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.”
This is a difficult commandment to obey. Even if you or I avoid making graven images of God, we cannot avoid making conceptual images of God. If God is beyond all forms of things we know from this world, then it becomes a challenge to point to God while avoiding any picture of God.
I recall C.S. Lewis telling about his childhood on this matter. Evidently, his mother told him to avoid even thinking about a picture of God in his mind. So, he sat down to think about God without thinking about any images. He thought and he thought. Finally, reported Lewis, God began to look like an infinite sea of gray tapioca.
The human mind can’t work very well without images or pictures. Certainly not without a picture of God. Perhaps we could interpret the first commandment this way: if you have a picture of God, don’t worship the picture. Rather, worship the God to whom the picture points.
Needless to say, I did not bring up the first commandment with Alice Rose.
In Alice’s picture of God, God is smiling
What is revealed in Holy Scripture is that God is gracious. Maybe that’s why Alice Rose drew God with a smile. Good theology, Alice Rose!
Ted Peters is a Lutheran pastor an emeritus professor at the Graduate Theological Union., He co-edits the journal, Theology and Science, with Robert John Russell on behalf of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, in Berkeley, California, USA. His single volume systematic theology, God—The World’s Future, is now in the 3rd edition. He has also authored Sin: Radical Evil in Soul and Society as well as Sin Boldly: Justifying Faith for Fragile and Broken Souls. See his website: TedsTimelyTake.com.
Watch for Ted’s forthcoming book, The Voice of Public Theology, to be published by ATF Press.